It’s not every day that a cookie takes a solo space flight. Certainly none of Tunnock’s teacakes—which are shortbread cookies under domes of chocolate covered marshmallow, and a favorite tea-time treat in Scotland—have done so. But what generations of Scots have overlooked is that these classic cookies come wrapped in a spacesuit-like silver-red foil. As the Glasgow Science Centre museum was to prove, Tunnock’s teacakes come pre-dressed for a trip to the stratosphere.
On October 13, 2017, GSC scientists attached a Tunnock’s teacake to a weather balloon and sent it hurtling far above the earth. Weather balloons typically gather meteorological data—they are the cheapest and easiest way for non-astronauts to reach the edge of space. But as weather balloon kits can cost less than a thousand dollars, the barrier to non-human space travel is surprisingly low. Past balloon-elevated oddities include a hamburger, a Hello Kitty doll, and an armchair.
Appropriately, the launch site was the village of Houston, 16 miles from Glasgow. Two cameras documented the journey of “Terry” the teacake, who spun at a vertigo-inducing rate as he ascended.
After an hour and 29 minutes of upward ascent, Terry reached an altitude of 21 miles. Terry had reached the stratosphere, but not space, which according to NASA begins at 62 miles above the earth. The cameras fixed on Terry showed spectacular vistas of the curving horizon below and the darkness of space beyond. Not a bad view for anyone, much less a marshmallow cookie.
Eventually Terry’s balloon popped, and Terry began a 40-minute descent from the stratosphere, slowed by the balloon rig’s parachute. Though the weather balloon rig crash-landed into a tree in Galloway Forest Park, Terry survived intact.
While sending a cookie to space might seem frivolous, GSC’s chief executive explained that Terry’s journey was meant to be inspirational. “We engage people with space science every day,” said Dr. Stephen Breslin to the BBC, “and we thought what better way to spark people’s imaginations and interest in STEM than for us to launch something into space ourselves.”
While Terry’s space adventures came to an end, Breslin has promised that more Scottish treats will get “the science treatment.” But it’s hard to imagine what could beat sending a teacake into the stratosphere.
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